The Long Trail of Abuse

Posted: Apr 19, 2024

Last week I wrote about reflections on Ravi Zacharias’s story. Ravi was an apologist and speaker with a worldwide ministry. After he died in 2020 it came out that he had been molesting female massage therapists and others for the 10 years prior to his death.

Ravi Zacharias left a long trail of traumatized women who he abused spiritually and sexually. Healing from sexual and spiritual abuse takes years and can impact those who have been harmed for life, even well after they’ve healed.

Ravi’s story is a microcosm of a church that sometimes treats women as lust objects, abuses them, and turns the other way when the truth comes to light.

* February of this year, a video clip surfaced of a sermon from August of 2023 where a pastor said that if a woman was wearing shorts and was raped and he was on the jury prosecuting the rapist, that:

“If you dress like that and you get raped, and I’m on the jury, he’s going to go free… I’m right, you know, because a man’s a man.”

* Several weeks ago, a pastor of a Texas megachurch gave the following wedding night advice to women: “…stand where he (your husband) tells you to stand, wear what he tells you to wear and do what he tells you to do and you’re going to make him the happiest man in the world.”

* After several women stepped forward with stories in 2023 that Mike Bickle, founder of the International House of Prayer, had sexually abused them, IHOP severed ties with him. One woman said he had molested her when she was 14.

* 5 women of a New Jersey church came forward with stories of alleged sexual abuse by their pastor. He reportedly asked them to draw pictures of themselves naked, encouraged them to masturbate as a form of worship, and commented on the women’s bras and private parts.

* When Eileen Gray decided to leave her husband (who taught the Bible to kids at their church) because of his physical and mental abuse, she reported it to her church and told them of her intent to divorce him. After telling her to stay in an abusive marriage, the senior pastor shamed her during a Sunday morning service by saying the following during his sermon:

“I want to mention a sad situation, a person who is unwilling to repent… This is what the Lord wants… He wants discipline… to be put out of the church, to be publicly shamed, to be put away from fellowship. In this case it applies to Eileen Gray.” He described her sin as deciding “to leave her husband, to grant no grace at all, to take the children, to go away, to forsake him” which meant rejecting “all the instruction and counsel of the elders, all instruction from the Word of God.” The pastor then encouraged the church to pray for Eileen and to “treat her as an unbeliever—for all we know, she may be.”

Eileen Gray’s ex-husband is now serving a 21-year to life sentence for aggravated child molestation, corporal injury to a child, and child abuse. Recently, when an officer on the elder board asked their church to make it right, he was shut down, and asked to back off or resign. He quit but continued to hear stories of women from his former church who had been shunned or threatened with church discipline if they left their husbands. The senior pastor is John MacArthur. You can read the story and watch the video of the sermon mentioned above here.

* In 2018, Bill Hybels, the senior pastor of Willow Creek, the seeker-friendly mega-church of 20,000+, resigned after reports surfaced that he had sexually harassed and assaulted women in his church.

* When Karen Hinkley sought to have her marriage annulled with her husband, who was viewing child porn and had other inappropriate issues with children, her Dallas megachurch put her under discipline for not submitting to their policy and choosing to leave her husband. After Hinkley’s story blew up and made the national news, the church suddenly apologized.

* Beth Moore, founder of Living Proof Ministries, shared the following experience on her blog:
“About a year ago I had an opportunity to meet a theologian I’d long respected. I’d read virtually every book he’d written. I’d looked so forward to getting to share a meal with him and talk theology. The instant I met him, he looked me up and down, smiled approvingly and said, “You are better looking than ______________.” He didn’t leave it blank. He filled it in with the name of another woman Bible teacher. These examples may seem fairly benign in light of recent scandals of sexual abuse and assault coming to light but the attitudes are growing from the same dangerously malignant root. Many women have experienced horrific abuses within the power structures of our Christian world.”

* During Aretha Franklin’s funeral a minister was caught on camera groping Ariana Grande. The expression on her face and body language says it all:

When I saw this picture, I couldn’t help thinking it represented how some in the modern church are treating women, with a Bible in one hand, porn in the other, and/or treating them like sex objects all while trying to deny or justify their actions. (The minister gave somewhat of an apology while not taking full ownership… see the link above.)

The outside world reads the news articles. They know we’re not walking the talk and are looking the other way as the sexual sin, porn addiction, sexual abuse, and spiritual abuse continues to blow up in our midst. Some might attempt to sweep these issues under the rug (along with those who have been hurt) by saying that those who have been abused should focus on God, not what other believers do, but God reveals Himself to the world through His people, His church. What message are we sending?

In response to last week’s post on Ravi’s story, one man wrote the following on our Facebook page:

“The people who knew should have sent him (Ravi Zacharias) to prison. This is why your churches are full of pedophiles and rapists, you don’t hold them accountable, you make excuses for them.”

He nailed it. When is the last time you heard a major ministry figure (ie Christian celebrity) or pastor calling this out? Sure, some apologize, but often those apologies came because they had their pants pulled down publicly, not because of heart-felt remorse or brokenness.

What is disturbing about these stories is that they show church leadership treating women as less than second class citizens while abusing them sexually and spiritually. Think about what this communicates to their flocks: to women about their identity and value, and to youth; how young men are to treat women and how teenaged girls should see themselves.

Let’s take it to another level.

Massive numbers of Christian men who are married are mired in pornography. Porn in a marriage is traumatic and damaging to the wife. Many churches avoid the topic of sex, inflaming the porn epidemic in the church by keeping the problem hidden – which gives it more power – adding to the sorrow many wives experience in a marriage racked with pornography. The churches and ministries that are more concerned about preserving their institution than helping people will be prone to giving women who want help the Karen Hinckley treatment or ignoring them outright. We hear these stories from women at Blazing Grace.

Then there are the counselors who believe a husband doesn’t need to disclose his sexual sin to his wife until he has six months of abstinence, even though it may take him years to get six months of abstinence. The wife has to put her heart on hold while continuing to deal with the consequences. The message these counselors and churches send to women is “Your heart doesn’t matter. Deal with it.”

Ravi Zacharias’s story is a picture of the modern church. Educated, talented, skilled at communication, looking good on the outside, all while being corrupt with sexual sin and spiritual abuse as we hide it and cover it up, damaging thousands of lives in the process.

It smells like arrogance.

“It is actually reported that there is immorality among you, and immorality of such a kind as does not exist even among the Gentiles, that someone has his father’s wife. You have become arrogant and have not mourned instead, so that the one who had done this deed would be removed from your midst.”
1 Corinthians 5:1-2

Mourning over sin? Who does that? Have you seen a ministry leader or pastor broken over sin to the point of tears lately over any of these issues? Nah, right now many in the church are lathered up about what is being called a male stripper at a men’s conference that went on a week ago. I won’t dignify it with a link. We’re easily distracted from what is important, like prayer meetings, facing our sin and arrogance, and helping and equipping the men and women who need help in the church.

“Ahem. Genung, you’re taking this thing too far. We sophisticated, educated believers don’t mourn over sin, that’s for people who take that Jesus thing too far and work themselves up with emotion… oops, a text came in, gotta go.”

“Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep.”
Romans 12:15

“For many, of whom I have often told you and now tell you even with tears, walk as enemies of the cross of Christ.”
Philippians 3:18

Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears.”
Acts 20:31

“And when he drew near and saw the city, he (Jesus) wept over it, saying, “Would that you, even you, had known on this day the things that make for peace! But now they are hidden from your eyes. For the days will come upon you, when your enemies will set up a barricade around you and surround you and hem you in on every side and tear you down to the ground, you and your children within you. And they will not leave one stone upon another in you, because you did not know the time of your visitation.”
Luke 19:41-44

Hard, arrogant, burnt out, distracted hearts don’t mourn over sin. Those who grieve over their sin and that of others tend to have soft, pliable hearts that have been broken open with the love of God.

“One of the Pharisees asked him to eat with him, and he went into the Pharisee’s house and reclined at table. And behold, a woman of the city, who was a sinner, when she learned that he was reclining at table in the Pharisee’s house, brought an alabaster flask of ointment, and standing behind him at his feet, weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears and wiped them with the hair of her head and kissed his feet and anointed them with the ointment. Now when the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would have known who and what sort of woman this is who is touching him, for she is a sinner.”
Luke 7:36–39

In this scene this woman shows us sweet brokenness, manifested by an outpouring of love. Her love for Jesus was so strong that she didn’t care about being surrounded by a bunch of doctrine heads who cared more about debating how right they thought they were, or maintaining their institution. She was intent on getting to Jesus to pour out her love and appreciation to Him, even if she had to endure their hard stares.
How often do we go that hard after the Lord?

When you’re alone with God, do you ever cry?
Or is prayer some kind of mechanical ritual?

I usually end up weeping in God’s presence around once every 1-2 weeks. When the walls of the heart come down, our pride, arrogance, and self-sufficiency are set aside, and our heart is exposed to the Lord, His Spirit can come with a gentle touch that triggers tears of love.

It’s extremely difficult to weep over sin or with those who are hurting if our heart is a rock, we’re playing with sin, or our lives are choked with entertainment and pleasure.

How do we get a heart that is alive, broken, tender? Hours of prayer. An open invitation for God to convict us of sin and crucify the flesh. The willingness to look at cold, hard places in the heart and allow God to have His way and heal. Just last week God showed me a hard place in my heart that needed His touch. Many are running from or medicating their heart today. Why do you think there is constant noise during our church services? After more than 30 seconds of silence people start squirming. They don’t want to face themselves and the true condition of their heart.

Daily crucifixion of self requires suffering. Have you learned the secrets of suffering, that God uses it to mold, refine, and burn off pride? Do you go through suffering without complaining? Or do you come apart? Do you stuff your feelings or smartphone yourself into oblivion, or can you face pain head-on?

Broken people who walk with God care more about other hurting people than preserving institutions. Perhaps there are some institutions that need to be allowed to fail so they can be rebuilt God’s way, beginning with a church that is devoted to teaching, fellowship, and prayer (Acts 2:42). Broken people would rather be around hurting people than a bunch of posers with giddy smiles. Broken men and women will fight when a brother or sister is getting beat up by the institution. We want what is real and true for others, even if it means that truth might make people uncomfortable.

Broken people choose to trust God, no matter what. They want to be a part of His mission to set captives free.

How’s your prayer life? Do you even pray?
Is prayer a mechanical ritual, or a powerful encounter with God where you can wait with Him for extended time in silence?
Allow Him to break you.
Then step into the battle. There are many in the body of Christ who are looking for someone who will be Jesus with skin on to them. Some of those have been wounded by the church.